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Joy in the Journey

September 27, 2013

by Linda Beerman
Last Friday I had the opportunity to sub in the grade school in the morning. It was fun to see the kids again, and to see how much they have grown and changed. When I retired, I asked the school to put me on the "desperate" sub I don't get asked too often! After all, I thought, if I am going to be retired, I want to spend most of my days doing something different than what I did for so many years. Otherwise, it would seem sensible to me to remain employed in my chosen field. It has been a great time of withdrawing from being bound by the clock, even though I loved teaching and being with children for so many years. That is what I wish to write about today...children!

As the school year has once more begun, and I got a chance to watch the students the other day, I remembered some things that I have firmly believed for all my years with kids. Not only in the school setting, but also at home. After all, parenting and teaching go hand in hand, no matter where it occurs. Successful "teachers"...whether they are the parents or a school teacher, have to be flexible and creative in their techniques. If there was only a manual and a process to be used the same for every child, it would be a piece of cake. Because most of us have raised more than one child, or certainly had multiple students in a classroom, we know "it just isn't so". If we try to move forward with that idea, we probably are met with dismal failure.

To understand a child we have to take the time to really get to know them. This usually means watching, listening, interacting, and observing their talents and shortcomings. I used to have a poem entitled, "The Animal School". I have looked in vain for it recently, but the main gist of it is like this quote from Albert Einstein: "Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." In other words, when we sit back and take stock of a child's strengths, we can praise them and build them up to even do better. And when they trust us enough to give us their attention, we can encourage them to try something that in the beginning may be hard for them. And because we have built a relationship with them, they might be willing to try a new course of action that they aren't familiar with.

When we connect with a child and truly understand where they are coming from with their fears and hesitancy, we can offer love instead, and a caring that will lift them up. It takes time, that gift that everyone wants from us. We don't form relationships in a day. And where children are concerned, it may take a lot longer. Especially if they have been wounded by another adult in their lives before you entered the scene. If they have been told they can't do something, or that they are dumb, worthless, or are never going to "make it" will usually be a long journey back to where they have confidence to even begin to try.

For those of us who work with children of any age, I pray that we will have patience. This is not something most of us are born with. We have to really work at showing this virtue to others around us, especially young people. Children ARE NOT "little adults". Sometimes we think they are, but they are only in the process of growing towards that part of their life. Lots of learning and practice needs to take place before they can be expected to show signs of real maturity. And we need to be the adult in the situation and let them have space and time to practice, fail, learn, and begin again.

Of course, it goes without saying, but I will, that each child gets to that responsible and dependable state at their own speed. That is the tough part, isn't it?? At least for those of us who are the "teacher" ( or parent) in the situation. We want all of our students or even our own children to "get it" and master it at the same time. Too bad, so sad, but "It is what it is"...and children just aren't made that way. If you are in the place of teaching, whatever that means for you, I hope you will take your time, use your patience and love, and move forward with tenderness and respect for the young person.

A couple years ago I learned something from a class I took entitled, " Working with Strong Willed Children". (Aren't they sometime or another??) Boy, I wish I would have learned it when my own children were young and at home. Days and tempers would have been smoother! The instructor shared that we should never have the last word with a child, but the second to the last word. And let that word be THANK YOU. Example: As you are walking by a student's desk, tell them to stop doing something that is wrong or irritating, and then say thank you. Walk on, and if they comment in any way, don't respond. Most of the time the student will do what you asked, because they can't believe you did not get into a argument with them over their final words. And they are not sure what you will do next IF THEY DON'T COOPERATE. Another example: Ask your son or daughter to clean up their room and then say thank you. Again, if a comment is made, ignore it, and walk away in confidence that it will be done. I also believe in giving a time limit for any request that I make to a child. Make it a reasonable time period for the job to be accomplished. It helps for them to feel in charge of their part.

( P.S. It works with grandkids, and kids at church too!)

If you are part of any child's life, I encourage you to put some time into your relationship with them. They not only deserve it, but require it and even crave it from you. It makes all the difference in the outcome of our bond with them. The time, focus, and effort we put into a connection with a child will only bring gain into the future. We will probably be pleasantly surprised at the outcome!

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